Policy actions  3 of 3

Science and research

Scottish Marine Energy Research (ScotMER) Programme

As responsible regulators, we are investing in research to promote the sustainable development of offshore renewable energy. 

With the ongoing climate emergency and biodiversity crisis, the need to decarbonise our society while protecting the environment has never been greater. To achieve this, we are committed to a Just Transition to net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2045. Meeting these challenging climate change targets will require developing Scotland’s renewable energy potential and offshore wind will play a vital part in this.

We need to improve the evidence base around how developments will affect our socioeconomics, our natural environment, and other users of the sea. This will help us to develop offshore wind efficiently and in a sustainable manner, and ensure our marine environment is managed to meet the long term needs of nature and people.

Our National Marine Plan commits us to make decisions on the best available scientific evidence. Where knowledge gaps and uncertainties exist that add risk to decision making, the ScotMER programme seeks to address these evidence gaps, where it is most needed, and feed new information back into planning, licencing, consenting and policy. As an example, new evidence produced by the ScotMER programme is now feeding into the Sectoral Marine Plan for Offshore Wind Energy Iterative Plan Review process, which will be used in environmental assessments for new ScotWind developments.

Key to ScotMER’s success is the collaboration of scientists, policy makers and licencing colleagues, along with stakeholders from industry, academia, non-governmental organisations and statutory nature conservation bodies (SNCBs). Together, we identify gaps in our knowledge surrounding the impacts of offshore renewable energy on the marine environment which ensures a shared common understanding of the research needs. We then undertake targeted strategic research to better address these knowledge gaps and improve the evidence base to inform future decision making and research. We also hold ScotMER Symposium events to share new information widely and encourage discussion across industry, academics, advisors, and other stakeholders. 

ScotMER evidence maps

The Scottish Government via Marine Scotland has worked with industry, environmental NGOs, statutory nature conservation bodies, and other interested stakeholders, to map out the gaps in knowledge when assessing the environmental and socio-economic impacts of offshore renewable developments.

To do this, seven specialist groups were created, each focussing on particular impact receptors. These groups are:

Each group, made up of experts and stakeholders, have worked together to produce ‘evidence maps’ which provide a framework to guide ScotMER research projects.

See a streamlined version of the evidence maps for all groups (except socio-economic).

ScotMER research programme

The ScotMER programme is taking forward high priority research projects identified by the evidence maps.

Marine Scotland is collaborating with industry, statutory nature conservation bodies, other government departments, researchers, NGOs, and other interested stakeholders, across Scotland, the UK, and Europe, to conduct research that will aid further understanding of the environmental and socio-economic impacts of offshore renewables developments. This co-ordinated approach enables exploration of joint funding opportunities, co-operation across national boundaries, and new knowledge to inform future decision making.

PrePARED (Predators and Prey Around Renewable Energy Developments) project

The transition to net zero energy emissions for Scotland by 2045 requires renewable energy development at an unprecedented pace and scale. Current uncertainties around environmental impacts from offshore wind farm (OWF) development on protected seabird and marine mammal populations constrain impact assessments, delaying the planning process. Understanding how seabirds and marine mammals, and their prey, respond to OWF development will increase certainty on the magnitude of the impact, facilitating deployment of OWF at the required pace and scale.

Using a team of experts from government, academia, nature conservation agencies and industry, the collaborative PrePARED research project, funded by the Offshore Wind Evidence and Change programme (OWEC) and Crown Estate Scotland, will address critical knowledge gaps that currently are barriers to sustainable offshore wind development. It is envisaged that PrePARED will deliver increased stakeholder confidence in our understanding of the magnitude of cumulative effects and will provide assessments of changes in fish communities and distribution in and around OWF. Other PrePARED outcomes will be:

  • de-risking consenting
  • improving post-consent monitoring
  • ensuring better-informed marine spatial planning

The project also will provide more knowledge about marine mammals and seabirds which has been identified as a high priority within the ScotMER evidence maps. 

Scientific outputs will be disseminated via publishing in scientific peer-reviewed journals and other peer-reviewed reports. Additionally, new findings will be presented at a range of conferences and meetings, from international academic conferences, to applied offshore wind workshops and meetings. As far as possible, scientific outputs will be available for use by regulators prior to publication to facilitate uptake and implementation of project outputs in offshore wind impact assessments.

Some of the activities under the PrePARED project include: 

  • fish, seabird and marine mammal data collection in and around offshore wind farms in the Moray Firth and Firth of Forth 

  • fish biomass acoustic surveys 

  • characterisation of broad and fine-scale fish distribution, biomass, abundance and behaviour data 

  • data collection on seabird distribution and movement 

  • passive acoustic monitoring of harbour porpoise distribution and behaviour 

  • project outputs will address fundamental knowledge gaps relating to the effects of offshore wind farms on marine mammals and seabirds. Filling these gaps has been identified as a high priority within the ScotMER evidence maps. 

Ongoing projects

Publications

ScotMER symposiums

In October 2018, Marine Scotland showcased recent research projects undertaken in collaboration with organisations across Scotland and Europe in the First ScotMER symposium. 

Marine Scotland held its second ScotMER symposium in March 2019, this time focussing on Scotland’s marine mammals. The symposium showcased recent research and new methods being developed to understand the potential interactions between marine mammals and renewable energy developments, and covered topics such as noise, strategic monitoring, collision risk and modelling population level consequences of disturbance.

The third ScotMER symposium took place in March 2020 and focused on research and monitoring around offshore wind developments on the east coast of Scotland. 

The fourth ScotMER Symposium was held online on 1-3 December 2020. The symposium focussed on the recent research on seabirds, marine mammals, fish, benthic and socioeconomics, in relation to offshore renewable developments.

Attendees at ScotMER symposia include industry, academia, nature conservation organisations and advisory bodies.

For more information contact ScotMER@gov.scot.

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